Most people know about Benedict Arnold, the general during the American Revolution who sold out to the British because his wife was a gold digger. (For more on that, please see post http://www.historynaked.com/benedict-arnold/ )
Well, Norway had one too. Vidkun Quisling’s name has gone down in the popular vernacular as a byword for collaborator and traitor. In fairness, he was a Nazi scumbag, so I am fine with this.
Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Jonssøn Quisling was born on July 18, 1887 in Fyresdal, Telemark, Norway. He was the son of a minister who was also a famous geologist and the heiress to a wealthy ship owner. He was sent to school and although teased for his Telemark accent, excelled in his studies especially mathematics. He enrolled in the Norwegian Military Academy and scored the highest entrance examination score of all the applicants for that year. Then graduated college with the highest score since the college’s founding. This propelled him into the higher echelon of the military. Although Norway remained neutral during World War I, he was sent to Russia to study the country and became the Norwegian military’s expert on Russian affairs. Letters and personal anecdotes show him to have a loving relationship with his parents and siblings and is described as shy but helpful and friendly. This young Quisling sounds like a nice kid. What the heck went wrong?
His observations of Russia are rather curious. He concluded that giving the people “too many rights” brought down the Russian Provisional Government under Alexander Kerensky, and by contrast was impressed on the quickness in which Leon Trostsky was able to mobilize the Red Army. However, he did retain something of a heart as he married a Russian girl he met during his time in Ukraine simply to get her a Norwegian passport so she could leave the poverty in which she lived. Shortly afterward, he met Maria Vasiljevna Pasetsjnikova, and they fell madly in love. Supposedly, the two married not long after, although he was still technically married to his first wife. No legal documentation has been found for this second marriage, and Quisling’s biographers speculate this was not an official marriage. This did not stop the two from living as a married couple and traveling Western Europe together after his discharge from the army.
Quisling dabbled with the communist movement, a fact that embarrassed him during his later Nazi years, but never really made much headway in the party. In 1928, while in Armenia he and his boss, Frederik Pytz, were accused of smuggling millions of roubles on to the black market. Nothing was ever proved, but this charge was repeated often. He also was a diplomatic liaison for the British at this time as relations between Russia and Britain were being facilitated by Norway. His work was rewarded by having him made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). Rather ironic in light of future events.
It was during this time, Quisling’s sympathies for the Bolsheviks began to wane. His proposals for several projects in Armenia had been shut down by the government and he took it as a personal insult. He served as Norway’s Minister of Defence between 1931 and 1933, but quickly became disillusioned with democracy. He formed Nasjonal Samling Party, which was strikingly like the Nazi party coming to power to the south in Germany. Initially, the party had the support of the Norwegian Farmer’s Aid Association and the Norwegian Church. They gained 27,850 votes in the 1933 election. However, as the anti-Semitic hardline policy was formed in 1935 and after, most of this support fell away. The party became more and more extremist, and eventually only commanded less than 2000 votes. They would have dwindled away except Quisling had an influential friend- Adolf Hitler. Yeah. That guy.
Hitler had his eye on conquering Europe and he and Quisling met in December 1939. For power, Quisling was happy to sell out his country. In April 1940, Quisling met with German agents and turned over the secrets of Norway’s defenses. He had been the Defense Minister, so he probably knew all of them. Six days later Germany invaded as warships entered major ports and deployed thousands of German troops. They cruised right past British mines and local garrisons because Quisling had ordered them not to shoot. Quisling made history by storming into studios of Oslo’s radio station and announcing the coup. He declared himself prime minister. The German representatives demanded King Haakon VII recognise Quisling. The King had an actual backbone and told them no. I secretly hope he flipped them the double deuce, but that’s not very regal. However, King Haakon did escape to Britain and formed a government in in exile. Quisling was set up as prime minister and Norway was on its own.
What they didn’t count on was people were mad. Resistance sprung up to Quisling and the Nazis both overt and covert. Quisling could not control the populous so his German masters sent in one of their own. Josef Terboven was installed as Reichskommissar and reported directly to Hitler. Quisling was kept on as “Minister President” as a Norwegian figurehead. Whoops. How did that coup work out for you?
Not well actually as even after losing nominal control of Norway, Quisling still found his back up against the wall in 1945 after the Nazis were defeated. Quisling was arrested on May 9, 1945 in a mansion on Bygdøy in Oslo that he called Gimle after the place in Norse mythology where the survivors of Ragnarok were to live. The symbolism not lost on anyone. He and two other Nasjonal samling leaders were convicted and executed by firing squad. Thus always to traitors.